I bought a rhinestone pistol belt buckle for my sister Rachael, to commemorate the night she shot out the lights out at a campground so we could see the stars. I forgot all about the damn thing until my carry on bag went through the X ray machine and the TSA checkers called for back up.
A manchild dressed in a Burbank cop uniform confronted me, asking me if the belt buckle was my idea of a joke. Nossir, my idea of a joke is buying an airline ticket for black guy with an Arab name whose dad is death row for killing a cop and then showing up at the Burbank Airport with a half an ounce of weed in my underwear. Har de har.
A Wackenhut agent took me by the elbow, pulled me out of the line and led me away. I should’ve run. These private contractor types are accountable to nobody. I’m ashamed to admit that despite all my big talk about guns and revolt, I went like a good cattle.
The Wackenhut only led me back to the Tensabarrier maze to check my bag. When he let me go I thanked him idiotically. The fact that I was being escorted by a contract security service type was not lost on my traveling partner and ghetto pass, Mazi Jamal who was in line, talking on his cellphone booking a bet on the De la Hoya fight.
“Come on man, starting shit and we haven’t even got on the plane yet.”
“Is it possible your name is on some kind of no fly list? Mazi Ibn Jamal?” I hissed his Arab name at him so he would get more properly paranoid.
Mazi and I ran the security gauntlet the second time without incident. We repaired to the airport bar and spent most of the trip budget drinking up enough courage to hijack a plane without a pistol shaped belt buckle.
There was a time, let’s call it <911, when battalions of anarcho gutter punks dressed all in black, would go wherever the crooks from the World Trade Organization met and practiced “Direct Action”, which means throwing rocks at cops and breaking windows. If you don’t riot, you can’t complain.
These “Black Blocs” would form spontaneously at protests against the World Trade Organization meetings like the Battle in Seattle or on just any given day in Eugene. These <911 protests were violent. Sometimes people got their heads busted. Hippocratic Oath notwithstanding, a hospitals won’t help rioteers because Cops and Hospitals are part of the same system. So the Black Bloc had a squad of medics called The Black Cross who would run with agitators to patch up rubber bullet wounds with superglue and daub Maalox in tear gassed eyes. I know this because my sister was a Black Cross street medic for various “actions”, which will remain unnamed for fear of rendition. >911 the Bush administration seized the mandate of the moment and drafted a Patriot Act to manifest a Military/Industrial/Law Enforcement Complex that has Americans right where they want us, which is about a car bomb away from a Pinochet.
The new powers of the Patriot Act, though unsuccessful at finding Bin Laden proved to be excellent at breaking up cells of freegans in the northwest by doling out heavy sentences for people like Jeff “Free” Leur, who will spend twenty years in prison to atone for burning down three SUV’s, who were so young and full of promise.
The protesterrorist scene split up. Aliases were changed. People quit saving tree owls lest they get what Free got. The World Trade Organization wised up and started holding meetings in places like Doha, Qatar- far outside the operational striking range of a Volkswagon van.
So, the “Black Cross” found themselves out of a calling until a racist bitch of a hurricane hit a corrupt town called New Orleans and forced the ideals of “untenable modernity” to fail. It was perfect. The cops showed their ass. Whatever meager schools and health care existed were blown away.
With the slate blanked the kids knew that if ever there were a time to walk the talk this was it. So they loaded up their rickety cars with their honky hoodoo of wild crafted tinctures and drove direct from Oregon, arriving in New Orleans a full four days before the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Black Cross was on a new kind of Block Block, lending a hand to the folks of Algiers parish.
We ended up in New Orleans, allah akbar, and stopped for daquiris on the way back from the airport because Mazi and I spotted a girl with a giant ass in front of the stand. We drank our daquiri’s in the car while Rachael lectured Mazi on the type of racial profiling that he might fall sway to in this town.
Rachael’s house is pink three bedroom number right on the train tracks in a neighborhood in the Ninth ward. The other bedrooms are occupied by two other health care do gooder types, Lori and Corey. Corey is a nurse who works with kids with AIDS. Lori is studying to be a nurse and a mapmaker, and surrounds herself with the acoutrements of a student; the books and the hi liter markers notepads with outrageous titles like “Current Oppressions of the Low Income Woman.”
Then there is Hassan, an Oberlin graduate who sneaks drinks to the girls at the bar he works at so he can sleep on the couch and write a symphony. Hassan is a black gay man who, when is in his cups, lapses into thinking he is a white straight man.
We try to get the girls to talk about themselves, but the storm is the traditionally the first course of conversation in New Orleans. So we parsed out the abuses that broke the levy and smashed the ghettoes. This mobius strip of Katrina conversation never stopped the whole time we were there. Any person in New Orleans could be counted to rail on about the storm with the same prostelyzing fire in their eyes at any time, anywhere.
Luckily, the litany was interrupted by the screech and rumble of a ten mile freight train, full of FEMA trailers and Army gear bashing along just feet from their back steps. The train was so loud that conversation was impossible. The coda summed the topic up nicely.
A fellow nurse practitioner, Wendy, showed up. Mazi wasn’t sure if her rune tattoes were Nazi. I had to explain that these girls claim to be pagan so as not to be confused with the violent false Christianity of the current patriarchy.
Mazi asked some good questions, like why does Rachael insist on drinking out of an enormous glass jug? Rachael explained that plastic breaks down and gets into your system and it can give you cancer. “Plastic is made of a poison. Girls are getting their periods at nine. Testicals aren’t dropping and there is an island the size of Texas in the Pacific, made entirely of plastic water bottles. The gyre.” Rachael intones darkly.
Corey wouldn’t get specific about working with kids with AIDS because the real answers that someone finds out in her line of work are so terrible they can’t be talked about. Corey allowed that the last words on most men’s lips is “mother”, but that women know better.
“Suffice to say, my job is emotionally challenging,” Corey told me then confirmed it by drinking away a bottle of Evan Williams. But as far as their feelings go the girls refused to open up. They’re such fucking do gooders that they didn’t want me to write anything about them, demurring that the women they help are the real story, or the clinic. Mazi and I had a hard time dealing with this coming from LA, where people are famous for being sluts.
They have no one to talk to about the kids with AIDS. Even Freud had a shrink. The people running the clinic have noticed the burnout rate and force the girls to go away occasionally, and get off the cross for awhile. The amount of work that these communities need can soak up everything you got, angel or not.
The girls allow that the Common Ground clinic spends a lot of time administering first aid, treating diabetes and handing out blood pressure medication.
“The dumbing down of America reaches through the veins of teen diabetics after that you got to realize that food is medicine. Diabetes is culturally specific disease borne of fried food and ‘drank’. If that sort of nutrition wasn’t all they could buy in the ghetto then the rates of diabetes would be way lower.”
Another train comes. Another train of thought is lost. By the time it passed by we switched topics to who the Head Negro In Charge is these days. Hassan’s ivy league education black white gay straight condition has given the man an elegantly demented understanding of the shades of racism, summed up with this koan from my notes:
“If Sharpton says he is Strom Thurmond’s kid, I wouldn’t let that yella honky in my house.” and “If Oprah has a good perm, and Prince has a good perm, why can’t Sharpton get one?”
With the next train I succumbed to the vapors and passed out on the fainting couch. I was awakened a couple hours later by a two young African American gentlemen profiling themselves in straight brim hats and white T’s, tripping out because they just got robbed right outside the house.
“Shouldn’t gone out without the strap.” They said as if the lesson was evident. It occurred to me that I should have brought a real gun to give my sister instead of a stupid rhinestone nick-nack.
Morning baked me awake and vice versa. My hangover was exacerbated by young boy and girl wrestling in the kitchen WWF style. The boy, Martin, was high yella with nearly blonde but kinky hair. His sister Megan was ebony. (I’m decribing their color not just because I am a racist but also for the story, okay?)
Lori the mapmaker nurse looked as frazzled over her books as a genuine single mother. Don’t you have an exam? It didn’t matter to Lori, total outreach is method nursing. You got to take on the lives of the disenfranchised. Give people rides. Take care of their children.
The do gooders made me breakfast and made me take milk thistle for my liver. Martin opened up another bottle of purple diabetes drink, and not one of the health care workers in the room said a word. I asked why if diabetes was all they treat then why is the kid allowed to drink the diabetes drank? Lori explained that Comfort food is applied to stressful situations. Drank is culturally specific staple and to suggest otherwise might denote “otherness”. Martin drank his drank with a smug look on his face like he had heard this lecture before. I body slammed him into Mazi, and woke his black ass up so we get could down to some journalism.
We blasted the new “Rich Boy” song on the radio “Throw some D’s on that Bitch” modified to “Throw Some Reeves on that Bitch!” with my signature dance moves.
Martin tried to say that I couldn’t dance. I pointed out that every black person in the world feels the need to tell me that. I explained to him that in my culture, culturally specific, I am a great dancer. To say that I couldn’t dance was racist. Mazzi piped up that he was not racist, having bet two hundred dollars on Joey Fatone to win dancing with the stars. (But Mazi lost the bet because he is a damn fool. White people can’t dance. )
Then Martin told me “but I’m not black, I’m brown” the way he said black had an element of diss to his sister, Megan’s darker tone. I could see in Megan’s eyes that it was a palpable hit.
So I held Martin down with a yellow hi lighter pen and wrote all over him, telling him that I was going to yellow him up some more if he didn’t quit talking like that.
Lori was aghast, not sure if that was racially sensitive action, but I let her know that I’m from the dirty south and I don’t need a class on black, or for that matter, yella people.
The darker skinned child, Megan, tried to braid my hair to express her gratitude for putting her brother in his place. When my hair wouldn’t knot up Megan suggested that maybe, if we shaved my beard I would look like Justin Timberlake. This is a high complement from a twelve year old girl, maybe the highest. Later, I realized that Megan was a player and all this flattery was just grooming me for a bigger question down the road.
We get in the car and head high into the sky on one of the bridges laid over the city by Robert Moses and Huey Long. Rachael points out the bridge where Jefferson Parish turned black people fleeing the Katrina clusterfuck back with guns.
Algiers is called “The Point”. Juvenile’s club, Ceaser’s, sits right on the Mississippi under the Crescent City bridge. Some crazy gangster on a red rice rocket popped a wheelie right at us. We braced for impact, but he missed us by a good foot or two. Welcome to the Point.
Free clinics are a growth industry in America, filling in the gaps which are supposed to left to the ‘private sector’. But, surprisingly enough, there is no money in helping the destitute. So, Jello Biafra does spoken word at a local book shop to raise money for Common Ground. The real anarchos hate the attention that it brings, preferring to toil in obscurity.
The clinic it self is a corner store front with hand lettering and mirrored letters. The original Common Ground Clinic was in the Muslim temple, but now they got a storefront and a Victorian house next to it with a yard. One room is full of sick people and nurses like a clinic should be.
The difference in this clinic and most others is that herbal practitioners have a room to their own where they have jars and bottles of tinctures. Each bottle has the latin and the common name of the plant written on it. Some of the herbal medicine is store bought, a lot is wildcrafted. A real anarchist cuts her tinctures with moonshine so that no war is paid for. The herbal cures has met with some contention with the more traditional nurses and have to fight to keep the room and to dispense herbally.
My notes from the herbalists read: “There is place for pharm, for sure. First aid diabetes and blood pressure medecine. But most times pharmaceuticals is just repression. It’s going to come out somewhere else. Your body is a system. You have to think, ‘a way out of what’, ‘a way into what?’ Once you get a certain kind of treatment you need more of that treatment. Pharmacueticals create a deficiency, like the food the hare krishnas give you. Robbing you of just enough nutrients that you have to come back. Colds and impotence can be helped herbally without the “side” effects like persistant priapism, anal leakeage or sudden death.”
Most providentially these wildcrafted herbs became a safety net when the forces of pharma fail, which seems to happen whenever they get around poor people. I asked my sister if herbalism was really the answer then why not let me tell the world why not make it a business and she told me that: “if every body lived right then the plants in the woods would become endangered.”
The house next door was a yellow Victorian with gingerbread, an administrative building full of do gooders, computers, coffee and valuable air conditioning. I check my email and there is a message from my girlfriend saying to stop drinking out of plastic water bottles that have been in hot cars because it gave Sheryl Crow cancer on the Ellen Degeneres show.
Rachael was adamantine that the clinic wasn’t about a building it was about the community. So we went to the Common Ground Community Garden to look at lettuce and tomatoes growing there. I love gardens, especially when they have fried shrimp and cold beer from John’s Seafood connected to them. People came around to eat and talk. Soon enough we attracted a woman in a loose house dress who claimed a lizard was in her house watching her. She handled the trauma by chain smoking long cigarettes and drinking our beer.
“Ya’ll from LA? I used to live in LA.” “Where were you for the riots?” Mazi asks, a good journalistical type of question, he gets his little notebook out and puts on his inquisitive face only to be freshly amazed again at how long it takes southern people to answer.
“Where was I for the riots?” Miss Housedress looked around to be sure no one could hear, “ Shit. I started the riots. I knew the verdict was coming up and rented a eighteen wheeler with two dollies. Reginold Denny was supposed to drive my truck. If he hadn’t been late then he wouldn’t have got his ass kicked in the street like that.”
Once it got dark the neighborhood changed. The high density sodium lights made us blind to who may lurk in the shadows. Rachael made it a point to take me over to meet Bernard and Phillip, and invite them to the crawfish boil. Bernard and Phillip holds it down by sitting on their porches, drink beer and watch out for the clinic workers. Their hats identified them as veteran soldiers of the 101 and 82nd Airborne, America’s fightenest and their sense of duty has not faded.
We smoke some dirt weed and talk about the different health care workers that come through to the clinic as if the girls were calender pinups. When Rachael walked away for a minute Bernard took me aside and made it point to let me know that he and Phillip were watching out for my sister, because any fool could see that there was crime about.
I thanked them for that. New Orleans is the murder capital of America. “Should have brought the strap.” The lesson teaches itself again and again.
When we got back across the bridge we happened upon the streets venting through the Rebirth Brass Band and their entourage of Juvenile look alikes clad entirely in Coogi. After I could see past the shining of platinum teeth I realized that they were lesbians in drag, dancing with a squad of insane thugs unafraid to fall down in the dirt and soil their white T’s. It was explained to me that a party is a place you meet people who don’t normally get out. So some local real estate guys had a party providing free beer and crawdads to see who had come back after the storm.
These outbreaks are a respected truce in the constant battles of the street. As if everyone agrees at once that this is too much life and death, just play some music for a minute.
I fell into a conversation with the leader of the Soul Patrol, who told us about how he did the natural thing after the hurricane which was to cut a hole in the attic roof and barbecue on it for whatever Cajuns came out to rescue the populace in their swamp boats. Direct action.
“You know I did more than that butter bean headed nigra, Ray Nagin.” Just the mention of the Ray Nagin sent some crazy Parrothead guy to mouthing wild eyed claims that 4000 people died when the bridge collapsed. Helicopters hunted people down from the air.”
“Bodies were found with their hands up and their head blown off. You don’t understand man!” He wouldn’t stop yelling at us about what the fuckers did until Mazzi asked him if he was gay. Which is why I brought Mazi. It’s a culturally specific fact that two hundred and fifty pound black dudes have to listen to way less shit than I have to.
In Algiers, Loiusiana there is a man by the name of Wild Wayne. He’s a white man, about six five who ain’t skeered to boil fifty pounds of crawdads as long as you keep a cold Busch light in his hands. This promise later took on the quality of a threat because the damn beer kept disappearing whenever we drank it.
Wild Wayne taught us that there isn’t no nice way to eat crawfish. The man had a pinch/suck/ peel technique refined by years and could eat four or five crawdads in the time it took me to eat one. “Now what you going to do?” he asked ominously, as if he might eat the whole fifty pounds all by himself.
We met the other Common Ground Health Clinic workers. The doctors at the crawfish boil were obvious because they wore white button down shirts, now ruined. The other workers were obvious because they were white, but boy, did they hate it.
One of these guys, we’ll call him Hunter was fresh out of a racial sensitivity class, which, from what I could gather wasn’t being taught at the country club. Hunter focused in on me because I am a blue eyed devil. “You don’t understand, every white person has benefited from racism.” I could see that he wanted to get a committee together and hot box me until I admitted that I say nigger with the r on it.
“You know my grandfather went to college on the GI bill, which was racist, which led to my dad becoming a doctor which led to me being able to go to medical school…” Hunter was so worried about racism that he couldn’t eat crawdads without re-educating me about my racism. I’m thinking, “What? Do you think your tattoes make you black?”
Finally, I had to ask if it meant that you hate me and my sister and almost everyone working at this clinic? They laughed at the question. “You’re not that kind of white.”
So I told Hunter what we know in California. “Your anti racism needs an update. You are reacting to a movie about slaves. I have never owned a slave, nor would I. Why would I buy a man when I could rent a guy from the front of the home depot for a jug of milk?”
Mazzi agreed with Hunter that white people suck, but added that if he had to stand around and listen to him talk about black people like that he would have to get mad. Mazi told the girls that if they were really nurses then one of them needed to have sex with the guy, because that would be the real medicine. I couldn’t believe the shit Mazi getting away with just because he is black. Those girls would have smashed my patriarchies for talking shit like that.
Suddenly we were having a problem with Megan the twelve year old because she had got into the spiked water melon. The nurses and herbalists were really worried. Megan came over and cooed in my ear “Listen, big daddy, if you just put a little beer in a cup for me nobody would know.”
I told her she was crazy, these people are nurses. “Come on, Big Daddy, its just beer. People slip me some all the time.” I told Mazi about Megan and all he had to say was, “Dave fucked her whole life up. Now she is going to have a fetish for drunk white boys.”
The crayfish boiler plays a shamanic role to this coven of spice witches. And thus Wild Wayne gets what he wants. So I, being the most sober, had to drive him to the store to get more beer.
On the way to the first store we saw three police cars parked up in the lawn of someone’s house with their guns out of their holsters. “Fucked around and got caught,” was all Wayne said. “They’ll get you.” Wayne said he got caught once and now he can’t take anything with no kind of drug in it. That’s how come he would boil crawdads for my sister. He loves them herbal girls for bringing him stuff for his gut pain that ain’t drugs. He can’t take “nothing with no kind of drugs in it. Court ordered man. If they catch me slipping I go right back in to the jail, you heard me?”
The first beer joint was closed up with heavy battered gates. Wayne peeked inside to try to get the attention of a Vietnamese man who studiously ignored him. So we went to the other one up the street. It was closed. And Wild Wayne was trumped. He had no idea where else to get beer at eleven o clock on a Sunday night in the state of Louisiana. Wayne didn’t know how to leave the Point. If those three beer stores weren’t selling beer then as far as Wayne knew there was no more beer in the world. I blew his mind when I drove over a couple of blocks and found a beer store.
By the time we got back one of the drunk anarchist kids had taken over the karaoke machine screaming slogans into the machine like “PRAISE THE POOR. NO WAR BUT THE CLASS WAR. MONOGAMY IS SLAVERY.”
A huge man loomed out of the darkness like that last bear of the season, too hungry to sleep, standing half in the night, right where the light cut the bug infested darkness. His hat was caked in salt, “IRAQ WAR VETERAN”, and his eyes said back off. I nodded to him but he did not respond, and just stared at our silly party, eyes blanked.
It’s going to take more than Saint Johns Wort to get these new veterans right.
I had a fifth of whiskey and cut out to the levy with the my sister and her crew. We sat on the edge of the Mississippi and smoke a little weed. I promptly fell headlong into the mud.
“Careful now, that mud ain’t nothing nice.” My sister checked me over like a nurse will, asking about my tetanus shots. Once I cleared the inspection we got back to talking about Katrina.
“The river jumped the banks here. If it wasn’t done on purpose, it remains unfixed on purpose. Like the levy that everyone knew would break. Nothing can’t happen.” The brown water of the river eddied powerfully around the base of the bridge.
When we got back in the car the radio notified us that “Vaseline wants to know: how much does your skin mean to you?”
Rachael and her crew decided that they have to leave tomorrow for Alabama to wildcraft dandelion and wild yam while the dew is still on it. It’s the time of year to collect jeruselam artichokes, chicory, jicama and burdock root, willow and paw paw, poke weed for tonsillitis and peppermint for an upset stomach. Saw palmetto for the old prostate, comfrey for bone heals.
She said that we will have to follow Lori and Cory for a day or two, which sounded fine, as they are pretty girls.
Lori had us up at the crack of noon for AIDS test Fridays. Mazi and I followed her through a tempest to get to a trailer set up outside what is left of the Calliope Projects, now fenced off to keep it’s denizens from returning. I’m not sure how to mourn an abandoned ghetto. We can say some great music came out of here. Excellent graffititi. Cheap drugs. Exquisite murders.
It’s raining so hard that we are soaked when we run into a trailer. The lights blink and the nurses check at the AIDS test refrigerator which must be kept at a certain temperature or else the drugs will spoil. If the power stays off of too long the drugs will be useless.
The trailer is stifling and the rain deafening on the sheet metal. We have a freight train moment where no one can speak anymore due to the noise, which is really boring without a drink in your hand. When the rain petered off the nurses said that they were going to do AIDS test at a strip club that evening. Mazi perked up and asked if we could go and the answer was “no”.
We dash back through the rain to drive into the heart of some other ghetto, where the streets are flooded over the tires of the car. Mazzi wipes the fog off the inside of the windshield as we drive through two foot deep puddles muttering, “These people are crazy to think this place wasn’t going to flood. Shit is flooding now.” picking your way through the knee deep puddles in a blind rain to get into a halfway house with a hangover is tough titties. I don’t know how these nurses or the patients do it.
Lori has found eleven positives in the last three months on AIDS test Fridays. She says old men are coming in with Viagra aids. Lori says that when she tells them they test positive they freak out. Though we wait for an hour or three no one comes in to get tested. It sounded pretty exciting the night before, but after three hours of nobody with any kind of sickness I got bored and slipped through the security gate to see what a halfway house looks like.
I must have been a vision for those poor fuckers locked up in there, sunglasses on, reeking like a frat house. Takes one to know one. I got out of the Halfway House before they got me and kept me.
We left in a blind rain and drove to a Vietnamese Cajun food place and tried to eat. Having drank our budget we understood the concept of po’ boys better. The rain finally quit. Bums shimmered in the steam wafting up off the street as they stole leftover drinks from trash cans and got loopy in the midday sun.
We laid up in a Quarter bar to gird up for the vindaloo of midday New Orleans. Mazzi made last minute bets on the De la Hoya fight.“They going to come out of work on Friday and bet the whole paycheck on De La Hoya. They have to, they’re Mexicans.”
In the bathroom the wall read “Don’t let the kids become you.”
A bleary eyed old hooker stopped us on the street and pointed out a raw place on her shoulder with a broken scabbed heart on it like a badge. “I just got this tattoo in ‘memorance of my still bored baby.” Mazi almost cried.
Once back at Rachael’s house we told Corey we were too chicken to go in with her to children with AIDS day. New Orleans had us drinking enough already.
Corey said she understood, and she meant it.